By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
VIDEO: Kobe Bryant addressing the media during All-Star Weekend
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kobe Bryant‘s 2013-14 season looks to be finished after just six games. All that’s left is the word from either Kobe or the Los Angeles Lakers, according to a report from Bleacher Report columnist Kevin Ding that broke late last night.
ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard confirmed what Ding first reported, saying that Bryant is indeed finished for the 2013-14 season:
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant will miss the remainder of the season, a league source confirmed to ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.
Bryant has been sidelined since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in the knee. He also missed the Lakers’ first 19 games while recovering from a torn Achilles in his left leg suffered last season.
The five-time NBA champion had called his recovery “a slow process” during a news conference held in New Orleans during All-Star Weekend last month.
Bryant was examined by team physician Dr. Steve Lombardo on Feb. 21, and it was determined the 18-year veteran would be sidelined another three weeks before being re-evaluated because of continued pain, swelling and soreness in the knee.
This is yet another blow in a season full of them for Lakers fans, who have been reeling since last summer when Dwight Howard bolted from the scene via free agency for Houston. Bryant missing the remainder of the Lakers’ season, though, is just the latest dagger:
The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to declare Bryant out for the rest of the 2013-14 season later this week, according to team sources. Bryant is not accompanying the team on its trip to Oklahoma City and San Antonio, staying back to be reexamined by team doctor Steve Lombardo. And considering where Bryant’s level of discomfort remains with the fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee, barring an unforeseen change, the team will finalize the decision that Bryant will not play again this season.
After his highly anticipated recovery from his torn left Achilles tendon suffered 11 months ago, Bryant played just six games before hurting his knee Dec. 17. He was encouraged by his performance in that final game, a victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, unaware at the time that what he thought was a hyperextended knee was much more significant.
Although the Lakers’ original estimate was that Bryant would miss approximately six weeks, he is now expected to miss the final 17 weeks of the season. He said at the All-Star break he was frustrated by the slow recovery with his knee and noted, “It’s not the mind that wears down, it’s the body.”
Bryant will still be expected to anchor the Lakers next season, when he will be 36. He signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension in November to remain the NBA’s highest-paid player and continue through the 2015-16 season, at which time he will consider retirement.
Although he has expressed hope the Lakers will reload this summer via free agency, indications are the team will piece together a roster around him again with an eye toward saving its salary-cap space for a rich 2015 free-agent class.
Despite Bryant’s limited availability, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last month that no one should question Bryant’s ability to play “at a high level” next season.
Some of us have been calling for Bryant, as well as Steve Nash, to punt the remainder of this injury-plagued season for a while now. There’s nothing that can be salvaged from the wreckage of the tire fire that has gone on since last summer. Not even a few late-season appearances from one of the most beloved Lakers of all time.
When the trade deadline came and went last month and Pau Gasol was still a part of the team, it was clear that the Lakers were waving the white flag on this season and preparing for the future with a healthy Bryant as the centerpiece.
The timing of this pending announcement comes during the same week former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who joined forces with Bryant for five of his 11 titles as a coach, is set to be announced as the basketball operations chief (the title is reportedly still being negotiated) of the New York Knicks.
The Lakers chose Mike D’Antoni as their coach last season over a third round of Jackson, who has chosen not to return in that capacity this time around.
Bryant apparently won’t come back in any capacity this season, either. All that’s left is the official announcement, which could come before the end of the week.